Not so long ago you could rely on GP3 races to be rather sedate, fairly processional affairs in which not too much happened. That seemed like a long-ago distant memory after the first race of the weekend at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday afternoon in which multiple incidents, virtual safety cars and a strangely reluctant chequered flag combined to ensure that things got very interesting indeed for all concerned.
CLICK: Full GP3 race 1 results from Spa-Francorchamps
When the lights went out, pole sitter and points leader Luca Ghiotto got a terrible launch off the grid and found himself passed on both sides before he was finally able to find some traction and get underway. That allowed ART's Esteban Ocon to get to La Source in first place ahead of Arden's Emil Bernstorff. Ghiotto found himself squabbling over third position with Bernstorff's team mate Kevin Ceccon, a battle that he initially lost in the first run through Les Combes but then quickly retrieved with a lovely switchback the next time through La Source. However, contact between the pair just before that while exiting the bus stop had left Ghiotto with minor damage to his front wing and Ceccon with a more significant puncture that soon forced him to pull off into retirement.
Moments later there was a much more serious incident at Eau Rouge as Jann Mardenborough bottomed out and spun at the crest, sending the car into a violent rearward impact with the tyre wall that completely annihilated the rear end of the Carlin. Mardenborough was able to climb out unassisted and a virtual safety car was declared as the track workers cleared up the debris and removed the shattered remains of the Dallara.
The virtual safety car was removed on lap 4 with Bernstorrf doing his best to get the jump on Ocon but ultimately not quite able to find his way around in time before Ocon gathered his wits. Behind them, Ghiotto was now secure in third ahead of Antonio Fuoco (Carlin), Marvin Kirchhöfer (ART) and Jimmy Eriksson (Koiranen GP). Ghiotto made swift work of Bernstorrf but his afternoon's work was immediately made much harder by word from race officials that he was being handed a five second penalty for his earlier contact with Ceccon.
By lap 9, the big battle on track was between Status Grand Prix's Seb Morris and Jenzer Motorsport's Pål Varhaug over eighth place and with it the pole position for Sunday's race under reverse grid rules. Morris pulled off a nice move on the Norwegian through La Source to claim the position only to then run offtrack as he crested Eau Rouge. That broke Morris' momentum and left him on the back foot going into Les Combes, and when Varhaug tried to go around him on the outside there was contact and both cars spun out into retirement, handing the coveted Sunday provisional pole to Arden's Aleksander Bosak.
The race finally had a chance to settle down and regain its composure with a second virtual safety car spell for marshalls to retrieve the stricken Trident of Beitske Visser which was parked up at Blanchimont. When the race got back underway there were only six minutes remaining on the clock on the now time-capped race, but it proved a particularly messy restart as Ocon jumped too soon and then Jenzer Motorsport's Mathéo Tuscher spun on cold tyres in turn 14 and slammed into the side of Sandy Stuvik's Status Grand Prix putting both cars firmly out of the race.
The third virtual safety car was withdrawn as the leaders went through Eau Rouge for what most assumed would be the last time of the race, but when they came back down the start/finish straight there was still no sign of the chequered flag despite the clock having now run out. An extra seven kilometres of racing ensued, which made no difference to Ocon who had a one second lead at the front, but left Ghiotto struggling so that he lost second place to Bernstorrf even before his five second penalty was applied.
Joining Ocon and Bernstorrf on the podium would be Kirchhöfer who finished where he had qualified - in third position - before he had been handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding Koiranen's Matt Parry in qualifying earlier in the day. Just missing out on a podium was Fuoco, while Jimmy Eriksson was shown in fifth place despite having to serve a late drive-thru penalty for a jump start that may or may not have been legal given that he was forced to take it under the virtual safety car.
Once his penalty was applied, Ghiotto was finally classified in sixth place ahead of ART's Alfonso Celis Jr, while Campos Racing's Álex Palou succeeded in battling his way up to eighth place by the time the flag finally showed itself meaning that the Spanish driver would have pole for Sunday's race 2 - assuming that things don't change overnight.
Aleksander Bosak managed to fight off a last corner attack from Status Grand Prix's Alex Fontana for ninth place, while Fontana's final attack exiting the bus stop left him wide open to a lovely opportunistic move for the final points position by Jenzer Motorsport's Ralph Boschung.
Frankly however there were so many odd if not outright unprecedented incidents in the last few minutes of Saturday's race that it would have been a genuine shock if the race stewards didn't make quite a few adjustments to the final results before they are made official. When the word finally came down, Ocon was stripped of his race win for jumping the penultimate restart although he was allowed to keep second behind Bernstorff; and Eriksson was dropped to 13th place which means that Bosak is now promoted to eighth place and pole for Sunday's race 2. (See separate story
The 13-lap race 2 which takes place on Sunday morning at 9.25am local time (8.25am BST), followed by the 18-lap GP2 sprint race on at 10.35am (9.35am BST).
See full GP3 race 1 results from Spa-Francorchamps